It’s never been easier or more exciting to visit the Ukrainian capital. EU nationals don’t need a visa, and there are affordable WizzAir flights to the capital’s city airport Zhulyani. When you arrive, however, it’s difficult not to get overwhelmed by everything the city has to offer: from modernist and Art Nouveau architecture to gilded onion domes, warehouse raves, and endless affordable bars. If you’re looking to book a weekend city break in the New East, check out our 5 minute guide to making sense of the city.
Best view over the city: The view of Maidan square from Hotel Ukraine. When you book, specify that you want a room with a balcony view over Maidan, and on the 10th floor or higher, and you’ll be rewarded with a head-spinning experience. Look out in the morning to see the gold female figure that tops the square’s Independence monument shine in the sunlight, or in the evening to see the sun set behind old rooftops. Curiously, the hotel stands on the site of the first skyscraper in Kiev, the 1912 Ginzburg House, which was destroyed in the Second World War.
If you’re on a budget: Kiev is great for travellers on a dime, and you probably won’t manage to spend too much money if you stick to the kinds of places frequented by Ukrainians themselves (avoid touristy areas and hotel bars), but Biliy Naliv on Kshreschyatik truly puts the “bar” in bargain. It serves apple-based alcoholic drinks (the name of the bar comes from a local variety of the fruit) like cider, punch, and apple infusions, and glamorous fast food like oysters and gourmet hot dogs. The best part? Everything here costs just one euro, or 29 hryvnas. Yes, even the oysters — but be prepared to queue.
Best local fast food: Puzata Khata is the definitive Ukrainian answer to all your favourite fast food joints. Serving mostly traditional Ukrainian and Soviet food like dumplings (vareniki and pelmeni), borscht with garlicky buns, stuffed blini, salads, and grains, the chain also serves alcohol, so you can turn your quick snack into a decent sit down meal with wine if you don’t mind the fast food setting. They also do a decent breakfast — most notably deruni, grated potato pancakes (similar to rosti оr latkes) served with sour cream.
The best way to get around the city is: Kiev’s metro, which includes the deepest underground station in the world, Arsenalna. The station opened in 1960 and is 105.5 metres deep. Older stations, like Vokzalna and Zoloti Vorota, are beautifully decorated — but, unlike the Moscow and St Petersburg metros, which are home to large sculptures and golden opulence, Kiev’s underground design is more subdued.
Must-try local delicacy: Ukrainian food has many delicacies to offer, but cherry vareniki, or dumplings, are a cult favourite among Ukrainians and tourists alike and can be found in most restaurants. The dumplings are traditionally filled with freshly pitted sour cherries (other fruit fillings are also acceptable but are less popular), boiled and served with sour cream and powdered sugar to balance out the sourness of the berries. There are many disputes as to when the dish is supposed to be eaten — is it a sweet main course? Or a large dessert? To avoid arguments, some prefer to have cherry vareniki for breakfast.
Where to party: Kiev’s legendary rave Cxema might not be as unique anymore as it was in 2014, and has become so popular there are whole documentaries on it, but if one of their events happens during your visit to Kiev, you simply can’t miss it. The club night started after the Maidan revolution in Ukraine, when all nightlife stopped, and serves as a site of unity, love, fun, and freedom.
Images from top: Séan Schermerhorn for Cxema, Бiлий Налив/Facebook, Andriy_155 under a CC licence, Lesha Berezovskiy/Cxema/Facebook